sylvia and mohamed

My name is Sylvia. I joined the Church when I was 27 years old, between my return from serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and graduate studies in Washington, D.C. I feel privileged to work in international development, as I have an opportunity to serve every single day. I also feel lucky to have had the chance to visit wards and branches in different countries, particularly in West Africa.

I’ve had sacrament meeting in classrooms and hotel rooms. I’ve lived where there was no organized church meetings at all, satisfying my desire for worshiping with other Church members by doing Sunday School study via email with a friend. I have hosted meetings in my home for Peace Corps volunteers and BYU students. I’ve been mistaken for a missionary in Albania, gone out on “splits” [serving with the missionaries for an evening] in Montreal and Lyon, and met with the eight LDS Church members in Istanbul. I feel exceptionally lucky as well that I’ve been a member of more typical LDS wards in California and Arkansas.

One place where I haven’t been to church, and where I’d really like to, is my home country of the Philippines. I hope one day to have the chance to visit the mini-temple in Cebu City, where I was born.

Regardless of the physical location, though, I’ve felt at home wherever I’ve been at church.

I’m married to a Muslim. I can’t ask for a more supportive partner – from cutting out spirit children from plastic sheet protectors for my Sunbeam [3-year-old Primary class] lessons to prodding me every Sunday morning to go to my meetings, because, as he says, “you’ll feel better.” My husband is the one who inspires me to be the best example I can be, every day. One Mohamed story: when I told him I was tired and felt like flaking on attending ward temple night, he told me that Satan was working on me. I have NO idea where he got that from.

I don’t know if my husband and I will ever resolve the “who’s more righteous” debate – fasting for a month straight or fasting once a month the whole year – but I’m happy to be able to articulate my side of the argument.

I have been thinking recently about what it means to draw close to the Savior. This topic really resonates with me because of a recent personal challenge. I’ve always had a hard time asking for help. I want to be a strong and independent person. I want to be the reliable one. But sometimes that’s not enough. I’ve had to learn to share my burdens, to allow others to render service unto me, and, most importantly, to understand – or, at least, begin to understand – how to draw closer to the Savior.

In Doctrine and Covenants 88: 63, we read: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

We as Mormons talk often about how to figuratively “knock.” We are taught several basic principles:
* Pray
* Study the scriptures
* Keep the commandments
* Endure cheerfully

I will be the first to admit that doing any, if not all, of these things on any given day can be really hard. And we don’t have kids or pets, so I don’t know how parents manage. But the point is to try. And in trying there is grace and there is possibility. In doing so, I can draw closer to Christ.

I also remember that we are taught consistently to focus on progress, not perfection, although perfection remains the ultimate goal. It’s with drawing closer to the Savior that we can inch, imperfectly, toward perfection. The Encyclopedia or Mormonism says,

Although to many the goal of perfection seems overwhelming, Christ promised, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). While obedience to the commandments is essential, the spirit of perfection is contrary to ever-lengthening checklists of outward acts visible to others. Rather, prophets invite all to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; …and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you” (Moro. 10:32). Therein lies the power to overcome sin and discouragement.

So this most recent trial of mine reminds me that I still have lessons to learn on the road to perfection. I still need to understand that I can’t do it all by myself. I still need to learn how to graciously ask for, and accept, help. Most of all, I still need to know that ultimately, what is most important, is developing and strengthening my relationship with the Savior. It’s easy to dismiss “prayer/study/keep/endure” as a formula, but it’s a formula that works. It’s the Lord’s way; it’s up to me to follow it or not. We all have challenges, whether or not they are visible. Those challenges should not be seen merely as difficulties to overcome, but also opportunities for us to draw upon the Lord.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No.” Romans 8:35,37

I’m inspired by a quote from an essay entitled “The Uses of Adversity,” by Carlfred Broderick, which was a talk originally given at a BYU women’s conference:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain, and when that pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have resource to deal with your pain.